Razer: what can we learn from the Chris Gayle incident? Absolutely nothing

As a reasonably unhinged person, I feel qualified to observe: the nation’s gone batshit. Absolutely hashtag batshit. There are, at last count, about ten Australian adults who retain the gift of rational stillness. The rest of you are painting the cot of your culture in cack.

And, yes, I am talking about that cricketer kerfuffle and yes, I am going to say that nearly every bit of “analysis” committed to record on the matter is about as useful as a fairy-floss dildo. And, yes, you may very well “et tu, Brute?” me for extending the stupidest conversation this nation has hosted since those people at Hillsong first said “what western Sydney’s youth most urgently need is a megachurch with lasers”. Knock yourself out. Call me a hypocrite or a sexist or an ancient ruin who just doesn’t understand what really matters to kids or to cricket fans these days. I don’t care.

I can’t care. There’s no time to selfishly fret for my own reputation when so much else is at such great risk. This is a public health emergency. If you many social and traditional media commentators do not immediately loosen your grip on this week’s clickable turd, none of us will be able to recognise meaning when we see it in the future.

I am mildly sorry that a sports journalist copped a dose of performance flirtation. I am quite sorry that many Australians have come over all Klan-lite and vowed to protect “our women” from the threat of miscegenation. I am not sorry for but confused by journalist Malcom Knox’s decision to deliver a column in the voice of what we can only suppose is Jar Jar Binks. But, chiefly, I am horrified that we have been throwing shit for a week now and are yet to identify its distinctive smell.

Many, many commentators from social and traditional media seem genuinely convinced that this is a story of such texture, it demands another Da Vinci load of decryption each day. This incident has fuelled discussion on workplace sexism, on the role-model status of elite athletes and on the menace of “political correctness” to free speech.

While it is true that these are all fairly interesting questions, it is also true that the brief exchange that prompted them just can’t sustain complex answers. Journalist Has Awkward Time At Press Event is not even a headline, much less a basis for discourse on grand themes. You can’t extract truth from a trifle any more than you can blood from a stone. Or pleasure from a fairy-floss dildo.

I understand that professional and hobbyist commentators mean very well when they weigh in on an improper cricketer, an anti-feminist Facebook troll or a producer of homophobic noodles. Whether they wish to advance or to demolish the era’s habit of hyper-tolerance, such people write in earnest. But, they also very often write about such flimsy stories, they are able to say little of substance at all.

I’m not saying “there are more important things we could be discussing” — although obviously, there are things that merit more urgent discussion than the manners of a batsman. It is more to urge for a little less importance.

Sexism is an important topic. This story, however, says very little about it.

Not so very long ago, stories on celebrity or sports were considered adjuncts to hard news. This is not to say that audiences did not hungrily consume these stories or that media companies ever withheld them. It is, however, to remind you that once we believed that stories like this one were entertaining, not instructive and important.

We once believed that celebrities or dignitaries or cricketers and the people who report on them lived fairly extraordinary lives. We believed it, perhaps, right up until HRH Diana started performing Ordinary Woman fancy dress. By the time the self-crowned “Queen of People’s Hearts” met her terrible end, we were all but convinced that there was little that separated our lives from those of princesses and even less that separated princesses from news.

“They’re just like us” we said, and began to believe it to the point where every other news item reads like a personal Facebook profile. It’s not just this week that we’re having a Meaningful Discussion about a Relatable Matter. It’s every week.

Again, I am sorry for the moment of embarrassment felt by the sports journalist. As a lady media worker, I know how annoying it is when some famous douche-lord takes sexist custody of your mic. I also know that it is far more paralysing to deal with the alienation, sexist or otherwise, that unfolds in most workplaces. For six months and twenty bucks an hour, I once wrote documentation on private network maintenance for a boss that preferred to call me “Love” than to learn my given name. In the moments not spent planning my death, I would fondly remember the good times I’d enjoyed giving sexist interview subjects what-for.

The journalist’s experience must not be mistaken for that of an everywoman. Actually, everywoman has much more shit with which to deal. But, the belief that these very particular stories can function as very general truths has hardened. And we think we have something to learn from Chris Gayle.

I know that our species is inclined to stupid belief. We have given over many centuries to the business of belief in stupid things. This era is no more or less full of fiction than those that gave us a vengeful god, a merciful god or a merciful lender.

But, there is something that gives this era its distinctive smell. We have begun to believe that we can free ourselves from everything in talking about almost nothing at all.

22 responses to “Razer: what can we learn from the Chris Gayle incident? Absolutely nothing

  1. Turn it up Stephanie,

    If you want the right approach, you could do nothing better than the response from a real woman of substance – one Margaret Thatcher; who was reputedly hit on by a drunken male at a function and responded with ‘you have excellent taste dear, but in your state not quite up to it’.

  2. Couldn’t disagree more. While the usual Razer gems are there, thank you Helen for your consistently brilliant turn of phrase, the Chris Gayle style casual sexism is just the light end of a spectrum of crap for women that we are all (men and women) quite justifiably complaining about.

    A professional reporter should not have to deal with demeaning sexualisation in the workplace any more than a young doctor should have to ‘manage’ her pathway to being a surgeon (ie or be sexually abused or bullied), or a policewoman ‘defend’ her way to equal promotion opportunities (ie or be raped, abused or bullied) or, in fact, any woman, fight for the right for equal pay on the basis of supposed ‘merit’.

    Surely we’ve all realised by now that the root cause of violence against women is the stereotyping and inequality through power imbalances in male/female relationships? If not, check it out. It’s real, it’s documented and it’s not OK for any man, whether he is a famous-cricketer-with-inhome-stripclub or not, to use his position of power to sexualise a professional situation.

    To call it out and discuss it is not political correctness, it’s just common sense. The fact it occurred on TV compels conversation – as he no doubt hoped. I applaud all the feminists – male and female – who saw it for what it was and have named the behaviour as unacceptable.

    And to claim it’s just ‘Chris being Chris’ and ‘boys being boys’ is lazy beyond belief. Sure we’ve all dealt with it as women, but that doesn’t mean it should keep happening. We now know it ends with the violence that we are seeing every day.

    It is a slippery slope and Chris Gayle is riding it for all he is worth. To the detriment of the equal and ‘egalitarian’ society of which we are so proud in Australia.

    The little things really do matter.

  3. Distinctly apposite, Helen – you always make me sigh and laugh with relief that at least one commentator – and maybe a couple of others – can mix humour and reason into such an entertaining and insightful piece.

    I’d go so far as to say that Gayle-like misdemeanours and such-like fairy-floss dildos are media moles made into mountains deliberately, in order to ignore and avoid dealing with the real complexities of power, privilege, patriarchy and other alliterative dynamics that really need to be addressed publicly.

  4. Great piece, I am waiting (like someone above) for the job you do on the ridiculous major news story about the world shattering Essendon conviction. Even the ABC waffled on before any real news about this front page saga, and kept repeating it on ABC 24. What is happening about our priorities?
    Agree with the sickening hatchet job of two women in a cage pummling each other senseless. It just shows that it is not about equality, girls, you are just taken for the same ride as the guys, as long as it makes money!

  5. Good read. I actively ignored everything Chris Gayle all week, and if it happened again I’ll ignore it again. Its really just click bait. Surely women have been dealing with ‘Gaylesque’ approaches since the beginnings of time? Anyway it would be water off a ducks back for most of the women I know, who would also have forgotten it five seconds after it happened and moved on to the rest of their lives.

  6. It was a few days after the Melbourne Cup and I flicked from a re-run of Pride & Prejudice to catch the news from Etihad Stadium. Apparently 56000 of Melbourne’s finest fans had paid an average of $459 to watch a pair of female fighters in an octagonal cage. In a few flashing images a Holly had elbow punched and then kicked senseless a Ronda, and then punched her in the other side of the head while on the canvas. The Holly then sat on Ronda and tried to punch her several times in the head before a ‘referee’ pulled her away.

    The fans screamed; ‘celebrities’ like our female Cup winning jockey waved to the cameras, and the promoters walked away with something like $25 million in gate takings plus all the pay per view proceeds.

    Apparently Ronda was concussed and spent some time in hospital. This shining example of the rise of the feminist lower orders has threatened revenge and will be back to do similar damage to Holly.

    Legend has it that the Marquess of Queensberry codified the rules for male boxing, which Wiki will tell you is not entirely true, but suffice to say that those rules attempted to protect boxers from dangers like hitting below the belt (did Ronda and Holly have belts?), holding, tripping, kicking, hitting with elbow, hitting the back of the neck or head, holding while punching, or hitting while opponent is on the mat unable to defend.

    While sadly departed Phil Hughes gathers umpteen tributes, black armbands and looks to heaven as the result of a freak accident to the neck, our Ronda gets kicked in the same place in front of the Victorian Labor Govt and 56000 screaming fans without a murmur of outrage from a society which is easily outraged by Chris Gayle asking a female TV sports reporter he fancied out for a drink and then embarassed both with a lame line ‘don’t blush baby’.

    I searched the blogs of rad-fem ladies of the ABC – Annabelle Crabb, Emma Alborici, Trioli, and could find nothing but a slyly amused reference to the girls matching it with the blokes. There was very little comment. The ABC World Today reported this:

    “Victoria’s Minister for Tourism and Sport is John Eren.

    JOHN EREN: This is great for tourism, this is great for jobs, this is great for the economy and millions of dollars of money have been pumped into our economy, which means our hotel rooms are full, our bars are pumping, the restaurants are full, it means employment lots of people.”

    There was a protest recorded from Professor Rick Sarre (must be a male), an expert on sports law at the University of South Australia.

    He’s a long-time critic of cage fighting, and was angered by the Victorian Government’s decision earlier this year to lift its ban on caged mixed martial arts fights.

    “Basically it’s scrap fighting in a cage and it is essentially a vicious form of boxing. The thing that disturbs me most about it is the fact that when a person is down in boxing the referee immediately intervenes and says, “Sorry. You know stop there, let’s get up again and let’s start again. In mixed martial arts the pummelling can continue and I think that is not only reprehensible, ethically wrong, but also extremely dangerous.”

    Hear Hear brother….more dangerous for both men and women, apart from the sordid spectacle and the avarice of our elected officials. It seems only WA is maintaining the ban on cage fighting, as they do on pokies which has protected that polity from both scourges of our enlightened age.

    I flicked back to the handsome Miss Bennett and was delightfully carried off to that dark age of the Georgians.

    I wonder if Razer wrote about the female cage fight as a socially progressive subject for study? Sorry I did not see it.

  7. “…… This incident has fuelled discussion on workplace sexism, on the role-model status of elite athletes and on the menace of “political correctness” to free speech.

    While it is true that these are all fairly interesting questions, it is also true that the brief exchange that prompted them just can’t sustain complex answers…”

    That was a very good piece and makes a lot of sense however do not forget that there are many within in our society (and probably not your readers) that do not have the opportunity to reflect on the questions quoted above, apart from such instances as this. Dare I say there is a sense of ‘elitism’ within your reflection, we can’t all reflect on these issues the way you do.

  8. sing it sister! love it.
    looking forward to your follow up piece on the essendon “tragedy” and what humanity has to learn from it…

  9. I am much gladdened to see someone (else) echoing the voice of reason. The media has been banging on about this allegedly explosive incident (dare I say “event”?) trying to find some deeper meaning in it. Guess what – as Helen has so concisely put it, there is no deeper meaning here. Gayle behaved like a twit, but in the end, he was very publicly trying a pick-up line that bombed and made him look like a fool. Much workplace sexism is covert, rather than overt – in this case, it was there for half the world to see. The desperate media and various opinionistas have tried really hard to generate outrage and failed because as incidents (or events) go, it is simply too innocuous. It can’t be held up as a barometer of sexism, because that then would then mean that the bar has virtually come crashing to the ground and everything men do to women is thereafter, by this “new” definition, an example of sexism, even if covertly. This is perhaps an inevitable result of more and more behaviours being viewed only through the sexist prism, but whilst there are still many examples of sexism that do need to be dealt with, and that can’t happen without underlying attitudes changing (on the part of both men as well as women in some instances), the Gayle matter is not, and can’t be beaten up into, a defining moment. It says little about sexism – but says much about what now passes for news and commentary and the faux outrage phenomenon.

  10. “We have begun to believe that we can free ourselves from everything in talking about almost nothing at all.” Our mainstream culture defined. Love your work.

  11. A rather individualistic analysis … From that perspective it’s OK to compare Melanie (Mel) McLaughlin’s experience with HR’s and see it as relatively trivial – and not understand what the fuss (the “smell”) is about.
    But context matters – it was cricket (not arts journalism), and where were high profile women cricket interviewers (and players) on TV before? Where might they be in the future if Gayle’s behaviour was brushed off (or even viewed positively as a little flirtatious and charming light relief in the seriousness of BBL … )? And clearly the BBL has a huge following, especially of kids, so behaviour is socially important (I assume more so than what might occur in a comedy venue …) – whether or not we brush it off, applaud or criticise it. Thus the Gayle-McLaughlin interaction is not “about almost nothing at all”. Some commentary has certainly been silly and over the top, but it was right to call out CG’s behaviour, as a number of younger male sports journalists (and others) have done. OK, “The journalist’s experience must not be mistaken for that of an everywoman” – but that is a straw figure.

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